Transcript

Interviewer, off screen: One has a special relationship to the year of one's birth and seeks to find out what happened at that time.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger (author): Yes. There's a great deal of literature devoted to the year 1929, more of a collage, really, owing to the difficulty in unifying it all. It was a very turbulent year and... The first thing that comes to mind is naturally the Great Depression...

Those were unsettling times, no question.

Text: THOSE WERE UNSETTLING TIMES / H. M. Enzensberger on the year of his birth, 1929

Interviewer: Unsettling, but A summer like every year?

Enzensberger: Yes.

Interviewer: And then in autumn, the disaster. If you put yourself in Eisenstein's place, who in that very year, judging by his notes, is mulling over a mammoth project for which, he assumes, Gaumont or Hollywood or the Soviet Union will commission him to do... He didn't get the commission.

Enzensberger: - There were many jobs he didn't get.

He was... Such people, I think, are just too unconventional for the industry, like in big business. He also engaged with Joyce, who was also a person who was not exactly regarded as presentable from an industrial standpoint.

Interviewer: No. Not only was he blind at that point, he now had restrictive ideas.

Not just anyone could film his "Ulysses". Only Ruthmann or Eisenstein could, or a third person.

Enzensberger [laughing]: he said that?

Interviewer: Yes. He apparently was very picky.

Enzensberger: Did any negotiations take place?

Interviewer: There were negotiations over it. But he contended that not just anyone possessed the talent to film it.

Enzensberger: Yes, it's also remarkable for the time. You could say, too, people knew each other. And it was also odd because people weren't as mobile as we are today, when every child has been to New York; it wasn't like that back then. And yet there was a small community of those "in-the-know", you could say. They knew it.

Interviewer: Now you can see in Eisenstein's plans there wasn't a global economic crisis.

Enzensberger: Yes, his approach was different.

Text: Eisenstein's whale method

Enzensberger: I think there's a certain overabundance, too many ideas in these notes. There's no way he could implement all the ideas he considered. And he was someone who worked with huge amounts of material. I call that the whale approach. You let all the plankton flow in and it starts to collect there...

Interviewer: Something sticks.

Enzensberger: Something sticks; that seems to have been his approach.

You get the impression that it's all a big jumble, anything goes. That can only take place in a mind like Eisenstein's.

Text: Does BLACK FRIDAY lend itself to versification?

Interviewer: Let's say that you, employing the devices of poetics, take on the subject of Black Friday, could you sing it?

After all, it is an event that echoes and provides its own subject material. I've always wished that Marx had described something like that.

Enzensberger: Well, there are quite serious problems of representation. Eisenstein says that the stock market shouldn't be photographed. There are huge representation problems. For instance, I've always wanted to write a really long poem about economic matters. A poem about the economy would be a great subject. But the difficulties are great. Why hasn't it happened? Because I couldn't pull it off, one might say. There are no... There are so few examples of this sort of thing.

Interviewer: In antiquity you have the chorus, which can tell whole stories.

Enzensberger: Right. Well, in a drama it's a slightly different matter. It's not necessarily Brecht's best work, but there is... "Saint Joan of the Stockyards" isn't bad... There's a suggestion of the stock market.

Interviewer: That's right.

Enzensberger: That's right. But lyrically, it's a subject that... There has to be a reason why we find so little of that in the corpus of lyrical literature. It's actually... Poems talk about everything under the sun and it's omitted, oddly enough.

Interviewer: Even the economy itself, for example, the Reich Finance Ministry, it did something along those lines. At a Christmas party in 1941, [Enzensberger laughs] they performed the balance report. The assets appeared and the liabilities answered. Commentaries came from the prompt box. They tried to stage a performance...

Enzensberger: Maybe a kind of charade.

Interviewer: A charade of the financial situation. No, it wasn't dramatic. I think there were objective reasons, too.

Enzensberger: It wasn't that they weren't talented. There were objective reasons, too. These performance problems. Even a subject like money... 

For most people, even the difference between money and capital is not clear. Money is what I have in my pocket.

Interviewer: Which does not multiply on its own.

Enzensberger: Which does not multiply on its own. It actually dissipates... There's a whole doctrine about the consistency of money. Hard money, coins. Then paper money, then you're solvent. You have currents of money, so it's liquid somehow. And the highest form is electronic money. That's nothing more than an electrical impulse. 

These levels of abstraction are fairly hard to grasp with normal common sense. A child understands what pocket money is, but not what a derivative is. You can't explain that to a twelve-year-old.

Interviewer: [Enzensberger makes sounds of agreement throughout] I can talk about "Hans in Luck", a lump of gold that shrinks, that gets exchanged... But as soon as I leave this level, for instance the case of a banknote, a bill with countless fingerprints, a Reichsmark note that survived the whole war, and in 1949 has no value any more. That note has a story, but you can't see it. 

Enzensberger: There is even a gaseous form of money, the bubble.

Bubble... The real estate bubble.

Interviewer: - Or the stock market bubble...

Enzensberger: Or inflation. Inflation is a kind of bloating.

Interviewer: And then you notice, it's all based on trust.

Enzensberger: Yes!

Interviewer: Credit flows into the bubble.

Enzensberger: Yes, and if people stop believing in it, it's 1929 all over again.

Interviewer: Then the bubble bursts.

Enzensberger: Yes.

Interviewer: At this point, of course, the poet would be able to sing again. If you look at...

Enzensberger: Yes, that's true. The consequences are easier to depict than the system itself. 

Interviewer: If you'd do it like John Dos Passos.

Text: [an image of John Dos Passos appears onscreen]

Enzensberger: Yes

Interviewer: With a grand montage.

Enzensberger: Yes. The trust needed by the system corresponds to the mistrust of the whole set-up. And I think it's one... It's not just with the left wing. This mistrust is also very prevalent in the working class, with farmers.

Interviewer: It needs to be taken seriously.

Enzensberger: Yes. It's quite risky if you go oo far. They'll remember it. It's...

Interviewer: That a corporation like Siemens or a traditional entrepreneur would actually need a number of scouts who know these risky traps, where mistrust has already amassed, for example, towards the barons. The farmers won't trust them again.

Enzensberger: Yes, that's right

Interviewer: The Reich used the SA to clean up entire companies. It's the same mistrust.

Enzensberger: Yes, but I think in our circumstances we've become quite blinded by routine. For example, if you look at how companies present themselves. If a bank promotes itself using the slogan: "The friendly green ribbon." I don't know a soul who expects a bank to be friendly. It's not the job of a bank, it’s wasted money, and blindness. Just ask any cleaning lady. She'd have explained it to him and saved millions. It doesn't work. But they only live in their little world.

It's very odd how you can realize it from without, but not from within. Blinded by routine, or self-reference, however you care to refer to it. There are reasons based in systems theory that people... I mean politicians, too. They say 'the people in the countryside' of course, it's completely insane.

Interviewer: Where is the politician?

Enzensberger: Where does he live? Not outside?

Interviewer: In the Bundestag, in the capital.

Enzensberger: Yes. And it's all... I think we can't call it subjectively that someone who says that is narrow-minded. He lives in a bubble. 

Interviewer: It's characteristic of how you write that you could imagine now that there were a few skilled people in the GDR who'd seen so many monuments for Marx, forced to read many texts, and now they're waiting and could actually emulate Marx. And they could pop all these bubbles. They could spread critique around the globe, which has entertainment value. 

Enzensberger: I'm more pessimistic, because... It didn't happen.

Interviewer: Of course. Why didn't it happen?

Enzensberger: Why do people who spent 4, 5 years in school learning Russian speak it so poorly, or not at all? They moved it aside. It's an issue of being counterproductive in education.

Interviewer: That means Marx is far too good to be taught by teachers.

Enzensberger: Yes, of course. You need to... It's best to read him under the table. 

Interviewer: In secret.

Text: Immunoreaction to "false tones"

Enzensberger: I think children are immune to it. Even with simple things. We don't even need ideologies here. Instead, the immune system... There are immunoreactions to... And children have an excellent ability to hear such attempts to educate them where something isn't right.

Interviewer: Blocking access to Marx's texts.

Enzensberger: Initially.

Interviewer: Marx's texts lose their weight and are ignored when they become educational.

Enzensberger: Yeah

Interviewer: Now there are... There is no early detection method for Marx. Yet post-detection isn't possible either. Marx's texts were found at an auction by Stasi officers in southern England in October 1989. They could change the whole thing. They were submitted to the Central Committee. In vain. It was disbanded. It doesn't help if it comes too late.

Enzensberger: Fine, the evening crowns the day.

I think all these printed remnants, even those in minds where people... It takes time for it. I mean, I could imagine there is... Time and again we see even harmless literary publications have their renaissances. All of a sudden people say they weren't so bad. Or how Sloterdijk dealt with it, for example. He led a discussion about Marx, too. In part, very inventive. In the context of globalization. There's always another...

Interviewer: Rage as well. "Thumos", [Enzensberger makes agreeable noises throughout] based on Homer, through to today, using the entire terminology developed by Marx.

Enzensberger: No, no. The evening hasn't crowned the day yet. 

Interviewer: He's more than just a sauerkraut beard, his characteristic feature. 

Text: [several pictures of Marx follow]

Enzensberger: Well, to start with, I think he wasn't a particularly happy person. We see it in his personal relations. The most difficult, the best friendship with Engels. Was he a good friend at all? It's not known for certain. I think he was so fixated on... These people who... If I believe, and probably here justifiably so, too, that I'm the only one who can do it, it naturally means I have a mission.

Text: Engels and Marx with Marx's Daughters [with image]

Enzensberger: I have to do it and no one else. I can't delegate it. I have to do it myself, and that leads to a kind of, how can I put it, egotism, concentration. But it also means...

Interviewer: I instrumentalize myself.

Enzensberger: - I instrumentalize myself and it's not a recipe for a pleasant or happy life.

Interviewer: That's for certain.

Enzensberger: That explains these illnesses, rashes, all these psychosomatic things.

So I think he was... I have gathered a number of statements about him that were made by lots of people who met him, wrote to him. Diaries, too. And an extremely contradictory mosaic emerges with very bitter statements about Marx even. 

They wouldn't have ever published this book in the GDR back then. 

He also helped to establish the left wing's tradition of insulting. The left wing was always one to insult opponents, as well as those in their ranks. This tradition started with Marx. He excelled at it. He had great ideas. I still remember how he referred to Bakunin and said, "Bakunin: Muhammad without the Koran." The things he could come up with. He had something there. It's not entirely off. And that's how he vented his emotions. Lenin took it further and these leftist oafs...

It's pretty peculiar that you didn't say from the beginning, "I'm not going in because everyone becomes a traitor, a renegade, an opportunist, and this and that." It was really a huge tradition. And I contend it started with Marx. He was the best insulter.

Text: Film motifs in 1929 / "Flight from one's property"

Interviewer: What kind of images were there in 1929, images that one could have filmed on the subject of capital? 

Enzensberger: Well... One current example from the real estate crisis... In America you see these fascinating images of people who are fleeing from their homes. And you see that the houses are already partially demolished. The faucets don't work anymore. The reason is that they couldn't make their payments. 

In America there's no compulsory registration. There's no registration office, you can just take off, escape from your property. That's a very expressive image if you can capture it. There must have been such images back then. Back then there was a strong political interest in the production of images. They all had, more or less, a propaganda function. The soup kitchens, the misery, were shown very frequently, though not necessarily with a clear orientation, a clear message. There were pictures showing wheat being destroyed. I remember that. There's something to that. Then you can cut to another picture. Then you have a luxurious fashion show, which also took place back then. So you definitely could piece a year together like that. Even so, I doubt that you could really get to...

Interviewer: You started with the image of people fleeing their homes...

Enzensberger: That's good.

Interviewer: That's a strong, intense image, though actually I've never seen that, it wasn't in the film. The other things, yes.

Enzensberger: Right, because they served propaganda.

There's this kind of rhetoric that develops very quickly, of the exploitation of the situation in the form of pictures.

Interviewer: What the newsreels are showing. [Enzensberger makes sounds of agreement] Like when Amanullah from Afghanistan comes to Berlin, we have the aging president and the young potentate from the Orient. These are the typical images. But little analysis flows from them. Should I go to Afghanistan and establish a farm there? 

Enzensberger: What interests me much more... and this is something anyone can do who has thought about that time. What would you have done? 

Let's say you're 23, and you're a student at some university. Your parents have no more money, they're unemployed. What are your options? And those options... The polarization was already so strong that everyone in the centrifuge was pushed to the fringes. Do I go to the right-wingers, or join the Communists? And it was very difficult to resist that. There were very strong forces at work. And now the question is, how? So it's interesting to really examine what kind of the dilemmas,

Text: Socialist comrades (all are later killed)

Enzensberger: what kind of forced, involuntary situations these people found themselves in. And I think you can imagine that situation and ask yourself: Would you have cracked? How? 

And that leads to another interesting aspect of that time, the double-life phenomenon. More and more people got into situations where they weren't allowed or able to lead a unified life. Thus you had this whole sphere of provocations, secret services, strange... there are fronts, and strange alliances. On the left you had people who didn't want to go with the Muscovites, but they didn't want to be Social Democrats either. Then you had these interesting, intellectually highly productive people, like Korsch, for example... There were many such people who were broken by it,

Text: Karl Korsch (1886-1961) [with image]

Enzensberger: by the course of history. They weren't able to... Trotskyists and all the rest... I must admit that this interests me, because I think you wouldn't have been content to just say, "OK, I'm joining these guys, or those guys," but rather... You probably would have known a few people who thought differently. Even if it was only three or four... What does that mean? How did that affect a person's life? How do you avoid the concentration camps? All the implications this had. At that time, people didn't realize how dangerous the whole thing was.

Interviewer: They didn't know. It's a unique contrast that they thought the world could still be changed.

Text: 1929, the last year in which it was possible to think that the world could be changed

Interviewer: I can't reform the German armed forces, [Enzensberger makes sounds of agreement throughout] but I can go to China as a trainer. I can shape up Chiang Kai-shek's group. I can shape my fortune. But I can change the world, too. "Kuhle Wampe", the film that same year.

Enzensberger: Or even earlier. Hammerstein went to Russia, collaborated with the Red Army. Or he went to Hindenburg and tried to save Hitler at the last minute. Many stories like that, where you ask if it's time to stage a coup. You ask those questions when you're in his position.

Interviewer: But everything is open [Enzensberger makes contemplatively disagreeing faces throughout] and within reach for people. And Marx said that man is a mere appendage of all this production, according to his law of capital. An appendage of his destiny. That is, he can't at all. It's a lesson in depression, actually, which lurks behind the truth.

Enzensberger: I don't know. I also think it's all a birth defect of this theory. There were famous statements made on the role of personality in history. That's what they called it, and it was to be kept as small as possible. They were all objective relations...

Interviewer: It's discouraging.

Enzensberger: For one, it's not very motivating. For another, you ask yourself, too. It's not true. It's not true. The history of France would have been entirely different without Napoleon. Not to mention our Austrian chancellor.

Text: The theory's shortcoming?

Enzensberger: He's also a figure that, if he had been deposed in time, it would have all been different. I believe it's a shortcoming of the theory.

Interviewer: A shortcoming of the theory, and a strength in the poetic link would be if I were to tell Napoleon now, with little ado, that in the end he fails, which is disappointing, [Enzensberger laughs] and instead move to the Prussian patriots, including Kleist's tyranny or torrent of hatred.